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New GAA president Aogan O'Farrell outlines blueprint for journey ahead

By Declan Bogue

Aogan O'Farrell became the first Cavan man to be elected President of the GAA last night, when he defeated Sean Walsh of Kerry and Sheamus Howlin of Wexford to become the 38th holder of the office at GAA Congress in Croke Park.

A delighted O'Farrell told the assembled; "I'm delighted to be chosen as An Uachtarán-Tofa. I am from a small rural club, there are no trains where I come from. We were a junior club. I sincerely want to thank everybody who participated in this election, in particular Sheamus and Sean, two friends of mine.

"We are a community of volunteers and community is at the heart of everything we do."

He emphasised what he called the "Four 'F's, of fixtures, finance, facilities and family, which will become the cornerstones of his presidency when he assumes the reins at Congress next year.

The voting was a proportional representation system, with delegates registering their order of preference, 1-2-3. The total number of votes cast was 310 with one ballot spoiled, and Farrell garnering 170 in a handsome victory. Sheamus Howlin of Wexford collected 83, and Kerry's Sean Walsh, 57. He is only the fourth man to win the presidency on the first count.

O'Farrell is the current vice-Chairman of the Ulster Council and a member of Drumgoon Eire Óg club in Cavan. He has played football, handball and hurling and began his administrative roles in the GAA while still a teenager.

Within his own county he served as a club delegate to the Cavan county board, was the same county's Irish language officer and was a county delegate to the Ulster Council. He also served the lengthy apprenticeship route within the Ulster Council, performing roles as Public Relations Officer, Treasurer, vice-Chairman before being elected as President of the Ulster Council in March 2010.

Earlier on in the evening, the-now outgoing President Liam O'Neill, who will finish out his last year in office welcomed almost 400 delegates to Croke Park from units all over Ireland, and from as far away as Australasia and Asia.

Previous to that a number of workshops were held on areas concerning Strategic Planning, Finance and Injury Prevention among others.

The real meat was expected to be a discussion hosted by key figures of the Football Review Committee. The debate turned out to be flaccid among a surprisingly-scattered attendance.

Members of the FRC, such as Chairman Eugene McGee had wanted to receive as many opinions as possible but instead of the second part of the group's findings working as they had intended – as a discussion document – many gathered in the Ard Comhairle suite became mired in trivial detail, while some even didn't appear to have fully digested and understood proposals that were put into the public domain as far back as early December.

McGee was in typically straight form as the opening discussions began on the prevailing situation of club players being left kicking their heels for months on end as the inter-county season takes precedence, saying: "The mayhem that's going on at the moment, can't go on. The gaps that are opening now are ready for change."

Answering concerns that county boards are powerless to enforce their own fixtures, McGee explained, "We went to Congress and got the motion passed that the Competition Control Committee would be the ultimate decision-makers with the fixtures in every county. And after that it's up the county board.

"We remember players complaining that they can't get a regular programme like the soccer crowd and the rugby crowd. What happens then is the county manager, and not always the senior team manager either affects it."

Perhaps the most radical proposal centres around displacing one Ulster county and three Leinster counties to even up four provinces with eight teams each and remarkably, McGee was asked to explain how it would work.

"We just thought that way, there are numerous other ways and Leinster Council could do it any way they want," replied McGee.

"The idea of having four eights, was always mentioned as pub talk but it never seemed to be discussed realistically."

The greatest divide in outlooks centred around proposal nine, which asked if the Inter-Provincial Championships should receive a bit of loving tender care and be relaunched. The point was raised that at the Munster and Connacht semi-final last weekend, 32 supporters paid €10 in, 32 more paid €5 in. 120 free tickets were distributed to the players to share out among family and friends, and only 15 were used.

Tony Scullion, a key member of the FRC and an Ulster selector gave his response, stating, "I am one of the members of the FRC here who really wants this. I have spoken very strongly about this within our group here.

"I was honoured to play myself for a number of years for Ulster, and I am lucky enough to be involved with Joe Kernan over the last number of years in the Ulster squad.

"Playing for Ulster in the Railway Cup is the highest honour anyone can get in Gaelic football. The Ulster players love playing, nobody would not play for their province and I would hate to see it going."

Congress continues today with a range of playing rules to be decided upon, although it appears the contentious motion (Motion 58) concerning the taking of penalties in hurling has been withdrawn.

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